South Shore Chiefs 10U stare down pressure in Father’s Day Classic

By DN WRITING STAFF | June 19, 2022

South Shore third baseman Will Harding tripled and scored in his team’s victory.

By Rich Bevensee

Considering the massive proliferation of club baseball across the country and how sport-specific instruction has expanded into the grassroots levels, it should come as no surprise how well young ballplayers handle high-leverage situations.

There’s also the aspect of keeping talented kids together as representatives of their town team. Nick Cremonese, who coaches South Shore Chiefs Cremonese 10U of Massapequa Park, Long Island, believes his kids play hard for each other because they’ve been friends and playing together since they were old enough to flex a fielder’s mitt. 

Either theory – or both – could explain why young pitchers like Brendan O’Connell and Gennaro Cremonese are mentally and physically equipped to navigate through trouble like it’s just another day at the ballpark. 

These two remarkable boys stared down one jam after another while on the hill for the Chiefs, and their efforts allowed the Long Island ballclub to emerge with a thrilling 5-4 victory over USA Prime Northeast 10U Pandolfini in the Father’s Day Classic on Saturday at Diamond Nation in Flemington. 

“I don’t really like pressure because if I give up the lead I don’t want to do that for my team, but if I do finish it, it feels really good,” said Cremonese, who pitched the final 1⅔ innings and stranded the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the sixth. 

“When things like that happen I’m a little nervous and also excited. As a closer you know it’s gonna be nice to close the game, and then I feel relieved when I do. It’s like when you have an essay to write for school and when you finish you feel excited.” 

There is no doubt the Chiefs will continue to lean on O’Connell and the younger Cremonese as they continue pool play on Sunday. South Shore faces 3Up3Down Baseball at 11 a.m. and the Bayshore Sharks at 1:15 p.m.

South Shore pitcher Brendan O’Connell delivers a pitch during Father’s Day Classic.

Prime will finish off pool play Sunday by facing the Bayshore Sharks at 11 a.m. and 3Up3Down Baseball at 1:15 p.m.

Cremonese allowed one run on two hits and one walk with a strikeout in his 1⅔ innings of work to help the Chiefs survive a major scare from their opponents from the South Jersey township of Westampton. 

O’Connell stared down his share of trouble as well. His biggest threat arrived in the bottom of the third when USA Prime loaded the bases with one out and sent its cleanup hitter to the plate. O’Connell’s response? He induced a fielder’s choice out at home and got a strikeout to escape any damage.

“That was really fun (to be in that spot), and it was really great, like awesome, to get out of it,” O’Connell said. “I was maybe a little nervous and excited at the same time. I was thinking, ‘Stay in the game, throw strikes and make the outs.’”

O’Connell pointed out that in his big inning – and Gennaro’s – the volume from the USA Prime dugout and its cheering section got significantly louder. 

“As a pitcher it’s really important to keep your cool,” O’Connell said. “If the other team sees you like that (nervous), they can try and get to you and get louder.”

O’Connell pitched 4⅓ innings and allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits and one walk while striking out seven. 

Massapequa Park is a village in Oyster Bay, Long Island, and Sunrise Highway creates an informal dividing line for ballplayers. The Chiefs represent the northern side and draw from three elementary schools, while the southern half plays for a town team called the Cyclones.

The elder Cremonese believes it’s that familiarity, a neighborhood bond, which makes teams like the Chiefs unique.

“This team has been together since they were 6 years old and they’re all from the same town,” Cremonese said. “They feel comfortable with each other. They actually feel like they’re brothers. They got together on the mound when the pitcher came in to close it and he was struggling with the first batter, the second batter. They came together to say we got this, and that helps with the pressure.”

The Chiefs led from the outset and built a 4-1 lead while O’Connell permitted just one run in his first four innings of work.

In the first inning, South Shore leadoff man Chris Normile singled on his first pitch and later scored on a heads-up baserunning move, tagging up on a deep infield pop-up. Cremonese added another run when he walked and later scored on an outfield error for a 2-0 lead.

In the bottom of the inning, USA Prime leadoff man Matteo Pandolfini tripled on the first pitch he saw and later scored on an infield throwing error, cutting the Chiefs’ lead in half.

South Shore added single runs in the next two innings. In the second, Ron Scrimenti doubled to left and scored on a Ryan Fitzgerald groundout. In the third, Will Harding tripled to left center and scored on an O’Connell single for a 4-1 lead. 

USA Prime remained quiet until the bottom of the fifth when O’Connell allowed a leadoff single to Mason Klose and a walk to Elian Rodriguez. Pandolfini pushed across Klose with a groundout and Prime starter Matt Bocolo added an RBI single, helping Prime climb to within 4-3.

The Chiefs added a much-needed insurance run in the top of the sixth when Scrimenti slapped an RBI single to right for a 5-3 lead. 

At that point the Chiefs had the bases loaded with no out, but Prime reliever Ian Ferguson wriggled out of his own major jam. Catcher Luciano Tomasetto tagged out a Chiefs runner at home trying to score on a wild pitch for the first out, and Ferguson struck out the next two batters.

In the bottom of the sixth, Prime got back to within one run of the Chiefs. Cremonese hit leadoff hitter Tomasetto with a pitch, then retired the next two batters. Tyler Aboyoun walked to represent the tying run, and Nick Matarese singled home Tomasetto and represented the winning run.

Cremonese, with ice in his veins, induced an infield fly from the next batter to clinch the third out and the victory.

“The difference between Brendan and Gennaro, and the reason we started Brendan, is he will blow balls by an opponent, whereas Gennaro will come in and throw junk,” Cremonese said. “We do that just to keep the other team off balance, on their toes. We try to do whatever we can to put us in the best spot to win.”

Bocolo, the Prime starter, went three innings and allowed four runs, three earned, on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts. Ferguson finished off the remaining three innings and yielded one run on five hits and two walks while striking out six.

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